New Delhi, Oct. 3: Eye on elections, the Union cabinet tonight green-lighted quotas for economically backward classes but bought a year’s time by deciding to set up a commission to work out modalities.
The commission will have to work out the nitty gritty — including quantum of quotas and criteria for identification of EBCs — in consultation with heads of state and Union territories. It will have to present its report before the President within a year.
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had promised to look into the needs of the poor among the upper castes — the new term for EBCs — during a visit to Rajasthan a few months ago. Tonight’s sop appears in time to woo a vocal lobby of Rajputs and Brahmins who have been demanding quotas in the Congress-ruled state bound for elections later this year.
A meeting of the cabinet chaired by Vajpayee had decided to amend Articles 15 and 16 to incorporate the term “economically backward classes”, Sushma Swaraj said. A clause would be introduced in Article 16 to empower states to fix any quantum of quotas in favour of any backward class, including EBCs, the parliamentary affairs minister added.
Swaraj said the Supreme Court had earlier ruled that 10 per cent reservation for EBCs was constitutionally invalid as Article 16 provided for quotas only to socially and educationally backward classes. It had held that under clause 4, the quotas should not exceed 50 per cent.
But the attorney-general had suggested amendments to overcome these constraints, the minister said.
With successive governments gifting quotas to scheduled castes/tribes and other backward classes, the poor among the upper castes had long been demanding that someone look into their needs. After Vajpayee’s Rajasthan visit, a group of ministers were assigned to examine the issue this August.
Swaraj said the group had decided that Cabinet approval in principle should be sought for the proposed quotas and on the appointment of the commission.
The panel, to be set up by the government, will comprise a chairman, four members and a secretary. Care will be taken to pick eminent persons with knowledge of socio-economic problems.